Mam’k School Board Okays $40.6 Million Bond for Fall

Capital Projects, Fields, Playgrounds Are In; “Crumb Rubber” Is Out

by Joan R. Simon

(June 11, 2008) In a non-binding resolution, the Mamaroneck School Board voted unanimously on June 5th to approve a $40,690,080 bond that includes major capital improvement projects; four artificial turf fields and a new track; and resurfacing of the Chatsworth and Murray playgrounds. (See diagram below.) The last bond put before the voters was in June, 2001 for $49.7 million and included additions at the high school and Mamaroneck Avenue School. Many of the projects in the current bond were deferred at that time.

A decision to avoid using “crumb rubber” as infill for the artificial turf fields removed a major objection to the field renovation proposal. (See details below.)

The school board will take a final, binding vote on the bond this summer at the conclusion of the environmental review (SEQRA) process, which began several months ago. (See: Schools are Delaying Capital Bond Vote to the Fall.) At that time, they expect to set a fall date for the community vote. Details of the SEQRA process and a list of items in the bond can be found on the Mamaroneck schools website .

Capital Items

The final tally of capital projects is almost identical to the pared-down listing presented last December, which followed two earlier meetings in November outlining the full recommendations of the building committee. (See: Mam'k School Board Closing in on Major Bond Decision.) The capital expenditures include $19 million for new boilers and heating and ventilations systems at Central School and the Hommocks (including new windows); $3.4 million of exterior preservation for safety and code compliance; another $4.8 million for other exterior preservation deemed essential; and $3.8 million for interior work.

The only issues still under discussion were bathroom renovations and electrical wiring upgrades. Assistant Superintendent Meryl Rubinstein said that $500,000 of the original plan for the bathrooms was taken out of the current bond proposal and would be done in-house with the expense covered “over several years in the operating budget.”

Bathrooms in the Palmer building at the high school were chosen for this staggered work, which would be done during the school year. Unlike the elementary schools, Ms. Rubinstein said, “they have enough [other bathrooms] available in the [Palmer] building to accommodate the students.” To economize, the bathrooms would be renovated in vertical “stacks” where the plumbing runs straight up from one floor to another.

Rick Marsico, a school board trustee and member of the building committee, asked if some of the electrical work could be either postponed or done in-house. Ms. Rubinstein replied that “all the electrical work upgrades are needed,” and that moving work in-house would only raise the annual budget, which already needs to absorb the bathroom renovations.

While the elementary schools are deemed “more needy,” Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried pointed out that a recent meeting of all secondary level department chairs revealed “just how much technology is being integrated” into the classrooms and that inadequate electrical wiring was impeding that effort.

Turf Fields at MHS

The design for renovating the fields has been a work in progress since February, 2007 when two plans for turf fields at the high school were unveiled. By December, 2007, the school board -- along with most of the large audiences that had attended several school board and community meetings on the subject -- indicated their preference for the more ambitious Plan C that would provide three turf fields with lighting and a new, regulation-size track at the high school. (See: Schools Favor Moving Ahead with Turf Fields and Lights.)

Cost of Alternatives to “Crumb Rubber”

New issues were raised after the board’s announcement that they were no longer considering the use of a crumb rubber infill, which had been the focal point of opposition to artifical turf. First, what alternative would be used? Second, how much would it cost?

William Aniskovich, the district’s fields consultant from the WBA group, explained that “all turf is basically the same. The difference comes in the infill.” He spoke favorably of Mondo Ecofill ®), which “does not contain the detrimental material” found in rubber crumb. Ms. Rubinstein and board members who had visited a Mondo field recently were equally impressed.

Mr. Aniskovich mentioned other alternatives, including rubber covered sand and synthetic rubber from Europe. Every alternative, however, is more expensive than crumb rubber. The cost of the Mondo product, the most expensive choice, is five times that of rubber crumbs: $3/square foot v. 60 cents/square foot. Trustee Linnett Tse, a member of the board’s fields committee, quickly calculated that this could raise the cost of a varsity-size field by a few hundred thousand dollars.

Costs of alternatives to both rubber crumb and Mondo fall in between, and Mr. Aniskovich felt he could negotiate a better price than listed, depending on the product chosen. He explained that one cost-cutting measure might be to install shorter turf. Because infill is spread a half-inch lower than the turf, the shorter the turf, the less infill is needed.

Ms. Tse asked about durability, because most of the non-crumb rubber products are new to the market. For example, the Mondo infill has been in use for only six years. In addition, most Mondo fields have been designed for a specific sport, rather than the multiple uses the Mamaroneck fields will serve.

Another issue raised was drainage for artificial turf and the run-off from the field. Mr. Aniskovich explained that turf has 20 – 25% more run-off than a natural grass field and that legally the run-off needs to be controlled in retention areas, which will be provided.

Debate over Turf Fields Continues

Of the more than 20 speakers at the meeting, five were still concerned about the safety of untested materials and the environmental consequences of turf fields. They asked that the field expenditures be put into a separate bond, rather than lumped together with the capital projects, so that as parent Amy Vanderpool put it, “I’m not forced to vote against” the needed school repairs.

The rest of the speakers echoed earlier support for the turf fields, citing the lack of usable fields in the community and the poor and often dangerous conditions of the ones that are available. Robert Rainaldi, a Larchmont native, physical education teacher and coach, reflected a common theme when he said, “We have the worst fields I’ve seen. It’s become a disgrace.”

“We’ve been waiting a very long time,” said fields advocate Lori Brandon, citing the beginning of the discussion seven years ago. “The need is even greater today.”

Turf Field at Central

Also included in the $8 million fields allocation in the bond is a turf field at Central School to replace the existing grass field. With health concerns over crumb rubber no longer an issue, Ms. Rubinstein said there “didn’t seem to be a way it made sense for us to not put in turf,” given that the Central field is “the most used field in the district.”

Ms. Tse noted that Central “is used from morning to dusk, seven days a week,” and she “didn’t see how you could maintain a grass field with that much use.”

Physical education teacher Joan George described a “long saga” of three failed grass fields in the 14 years she has taught at Central and described the current field as “severely unsafe” with “holes everywhere, not just in high use areas.” Libby Jacobson, an 11-year parent at Central, said “more often than not, the children are on the blacktop or they’re inside” because of the condition of the grass field.

Rubberized Surfaces for Chatsworth and Murray Playgrounds

Preliminary Design of Murray playground
Preliminary designs for the Murray Avenue School playground include a combination of asphalt, rubberized and artificial turf surfaces.

Money in the bond has also been allocated for new playground surfaces at Murray Avenue ($375K) and Chatsworth Avenue ($954K). Rubberized surfaces are planned for the large play areas at both schools, which are currently made of asphalt. Meetings with parents, teachers, administrators and nurses have been held to determine the best design for each school.

Both schools will install a rubberized 4-lane oval track. At Chatsworth the inner area will be more of the same rubberized material. At Murray, artificial turf will be installed. There will be cushioning beneath the turf, but no infill will be necessary. Dr. Fried pointed out that this “would not be enough for older children,” but is adequate for smaller elementary age students.

The Chatsworth play area will be leveled out “to make it less of an attractive skate boarding area,” Mr. Aniskovich explained. The topography change is responsible for the much higher price tag at Chatsworth. The kindergarten playground at Murray will get a new rubberized surface; the Chatsworth kindergarten area is being redesigned.

The surface under the basketball hoops will be colored asphalt at both schools. Mr. Marsico asked whether bikes could be ridden on the new surfaces and Ms. Rubinstein assured him that bike riding would be possible on both the rubberized surfaces and artificial turf.

Final designs are still being worked on at each school. Dr. Fried characterized the renovation as “a very important initiative,” emphasizing the importance that “children have safer surfaces to play on” to avoid injuries.

New Central Parking Area and Additional Exit Lane

When the entrance to Central School from the Village Square parking lot was closed last December, drop-offs and pick-ups at the school became much more difficult. (See: Central School Grapples With Closing of Village Square Access.) The bond will allocate a little over $100,000 for an expanded exit at Palmer Avenue, with two exit lanes, one for left turns and the other for right turns. In addition, parking in front of the tennis courts will be angled to add approximately 15 spaces, Ms. Rubinstein announced, explaining that the layout was geared to “preserve green space.”

Enough $ in the Bond?

While some of the items in the bond have not yet been finalized, including the specific infill for the four turf fields and the exact playground designs at Murray and Chatsworth, Board President Amy Levere assured the audience that sufficient money was being set aside in the bond to cover various contingencies.

She also pointed out that a sizeable amount of money has been pledged to support the fields: $250,000 by Assemblyman George Latimer from New York State; two $50,000 donations from the Larchmont Junior Soccer League; and an unspecified amount to be raised by Fields for Kids. She also noted that there was almost $13,000 of “hard cash” in hand from the Derek Trucks concert last November.